Who's The Criminal? APD Infiltrates Occupy Austin in the Name of “Public Safety”
In December 2011, seven activists organized under the Occupy Austin movement were arrested after they chained themselves together at the entrance to the port of Houston. The seven now face felony charges of "unlawful use of a criminal instrument." Since the arrest, it has come to light that members of APD were working undercover within Occupy Austin. The question facing the courts now is, did APD officers - in particular one officer the activists knew as "Butch" - provide lockboxes to the activists, thereby rendering their protest punishable as a felony.
Our friends at the ACLU-MA are as appalled as we are, and have already provided the linear version of events here. A more detailed account by Jordan Smith of The Austin Chronicle is here…and the first to break the news is an active Occupy Austin participant, Kit O’Connell, blogging here at FiredogLake.com, which includes the most relevant portions of the transcript of the hearing in Houston last week that brought to light these activities.
In a Harris County court on Wednesday, a judge was scheduled to rule whether to proceed forward or move to dismiss, essentially by suppressing much of the prosecution’s evidence against the Occupiers. The hearing was postponed by three weeks. Austin lawyers are seeking to quash the names of undercover APD officers "Dirk" and "Rick." APD handed over the subpoenaed documents to the judge for private review instead of entering them into public record.
While this controversy swirls around APD, we Austinites happen to be in the midst of passing our city budget, including the proposal for more patrol officers to be hired.
CointelPro – Coming to a City Near You!
Across the United States, urban police departments prioritize the drug war and the so-called “war on terror” over simply rooting out violent criminals. The war on drugs targets non-violent, low-level users for the most part, in an effort to log higher arrest numbers such that it appears they are doing their job. The war on terror, formerly the purview of federal entities, and now being done in conjunction with them, takes many forms including: data-mining, spying on people with no prior cause, infiltration into activist groups (many times acting as provocateurs as in the case of the Gulf Port 7) and the use of military tactics to chill free speech: all in the name of oppression of dissent.
The average violent crime clearance rate is under 50% nationwide, while non-violent people account for over 60% of the nation’s jail and prison population. Seven of ten non-violent offenders end up back in jail, while the white-collar drug lords sit confidently back and count their money. Expert groups like the Police Executive Research Forum recommend an increase in investigator pools, as well as increasing civilian support, as opposed to increasing field officers.1 Police chiefs and sheriffs – and their respective law enforcement unions, on the other hand – convince their respective purse-holders that they must fund more beat officers, lest they be seen as “soft on crime.”
This dynamic occurs even when violent crime goes down: police claim responsibility for the downturns, yet cite external factors when there’s an upswing. They can’t have it both ways. Politicians still go along with building up police presence on the streets (but not necessarily patrolling neighborhoods) despite knowing that perpetuating the cycle does nothing to reduce crime. For police to justify their largesse, they must keep a steady flow of crime happening…or at least keep up the appearance that it is.
Meanwhile, outrageous acts by police against the population seem to be on the rise (based on YouTube evidence), yet district attorneys refuse to prosecute cops and police chiefs refuse to fire them. We “reward” this pattern by throwing more money at them with no accountability strings attached.
Let The Sun Shine In!
When we get a “rock star” police chief as in Austin, an energetic charmer with the gift of gab and a love for the camera, it’s hard not to get caught up in his promises of change. A little over five years ago, Chief Art Acevedo stormed our liberal enclave in an otherwise conservative state and promised to clean house and bring the department into the 21st century. He produced results in some ways: a few bad apples were fired, some policy was cleaned up, a long-awaited “disciplinary matrix” was instituted (he even joined us at the legislature to oppose “secure communities” which target undocumented workers) and he eagerly began building bridges with the community. 2
But those bridges were made of straw. On one hand, he worked with us to pass “cite and release,” 3 but then he turned right around and proposed officers get trained as phlebotomists to draw blood in DWI cases – sacrificing the public safety in the name of collecting evidence (ACLU-TX helped squash this effort). His handling of the first major police shooting death under his watch (Nathaniel Sanders, II) proved there would be no real change. Then it was cinched that he would protect his officers in any deadly shooting, no matter how atrocious, after the shooting death of Byron Carter, Jr.
While there is no comparison between unjust killings and curbing of free speech, our last bastion of hope rested on his many promises of protecting the 1st Amendment. He made great speeches before Occupiers — even raising his fist in solidarity! He also got himself in a spot of trouble with the nationwide blue shield when he posed for a photo with a gentleman holding a “Shame on NYPD/God Bless the APD” sign, alluding to the nasty actions of NY officers during Occupy events…and crediting APD’s promises of not doing the same.
Then he showed his true colors by using excessive force in shutting down the food tables at the occupation, and at the questionably-legal eviction last February (a federal court ruling is pending that will inform what happens with the eviction arrests and possible civil action).
As if that wasn’t enough, despite his promises to ACLU-TX representatives and other community leaders, he ordered infiltration of the occupation (he had previously promised, “I’m not going to waste precious resources…”). No, it’s not surprising, as it’s the model nationwide4 and he’s not one to buck the system in any meaningful way, but it is disappointing; our last glimmer of hope sizzling out.
The Buck Stops -???
The big question is: did Acevedo order or approve the entrapment? There’s no doubt that it happened…one of the undercovers4 proudly admitted it in a court hearing last week. He pushed for activists to “step it up” and suggested building lockboxes – a riskier action than simply linking arms to block a roadway. The problem is, participants didn’t know it was “felony” risky! Never before had this action brought more than a misdemeanor charge, but some “clever” assistant district attorney in Harris County found a way to bump it up by claiming the lockboxes could have been hiding explosives (these are people committed to non-violence, or at least the non-police officers were).
As far-fetched as that claim is, lockboxes can, in fact, be harmful to the participant depending on how public safety officials choose to remove them.
So, those in charge of our public safety not only lied about who they were and encouraged riskier actions than were being initially planned, but they bought the materials, assembled them and delivered the “criminal instruments” to the activists: “instruments” that then put them at risk. 5
It would also, in APD’s mind, quell the public’s fortitude in dissenting against its government in the future. People would think twice before attending another action – or even a protest. In doing so, they hope many would wonder "could I end up with a felony charge…putting my future at risk in a very serious way?"
In no way did this activity by APD protect anyone from harm. In fact, it created it.
This is what we are paying the highest-per-capita salaries in the nation for?
1 - Most violent crime isn’t pre-meditated, but of that that is pre-meditated, they are perpetrated by the same, small handful of offenders. “Best Practices” emphasize this, but police lobbyists downplay it.
2 - Aptly summed up, on Acevedo’s day of hire in 2007, Jim Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project, said: "Today, the sun has shined on the city of Austin, with the hopeful promise of a new era for relations between the police and the city's minority communities…The selection of Chief Acevedo honors the many good officers in the police force and honors Austin's diversity and Austin's efforts to respect the human rights of all its people."
3 - A policy in conjunction with a state law passed meant to encourage participation – which provides for not spending the night in jail for minor offenses (like small marijuana possession, driving with an expired license, etc), in exchange for showing up in two weeks to “walk through” a booking, facing the same legal consequences)
4 - For more, watch the documentary, “The Miami Model”
5 - Dowell, the only APD infiltrator currently named, is a $95,000/year narcotics detective. The war and drugs and the war on terror are inexorably linked; not that they are looking for drugs at peaceful protests –and not that free speech should be treated as terrorist activity, but that they treat peaceful protestors like hardened gang-banger/drug dealers (which is how they view all potential arrestees in a narcotics investigation). Narcotics is where some of the most questionable police tactics, and police corruption, can be found in any department.
6 - Why spending money elsewhere in the city’s budget improves the public safety: “Bloated Police Budgets Do NOT a Safe Community Make”